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Broad-leaved Helleborine

Epipactis helleborine

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Orchidaceae (Orchid)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
120 centimetres tall
Hedgerows, riverbanks, roadsides, scrub, swamps, waterside, woodland.

Pink, 5 petals
Broader than long green pointed sepals with a heart-shaped lip curving backwards, petals pink or purple, forming a long one-sided spike.
A nodding capsule filled with powder-like seeds.
Alternate, stalkless, untoothed leaves. The smaller upper leaves are ovate and tapering. Parallel veins.
Other Names:
Bastard Hellebore, Broadleaf Helleborine, Common Helleborine, Eastern Helleborine, Weed Orchid.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Epipactis helleborine, commonly known as "Broad-leaved helleborine" is a species of herbaceous perennial orchid that is native to Europe, Asia and North Africa. It typically grows to be about 120 centimeters tall, with large, dark-green leaves that can reach up to 20 centimeters in length. It has small, greenish-white or yellow-green flowers that bloom in the late spring or early summer. The flowers are usually small and held in clusters on tall stalks.

Epipactis helleborine is often found in damp, shaded habitats such as woodlands, hedgerows and riverbanks, it prefers moist and well-drained soils. It is tolerant of cold temperatures and hardy, it can tolerate temperatures down to -20°C. It is also used in traditional medicine for the treatment of various diseases such as fever, cold, and headache. The plant is not toxic but like other species of orchids it is protected by law in some countries, and it is important to keep in mind that removing or digging up wild orchids is illegal in many places.


Broad-leaved Helleborine, scientifically known as Epipactis helleborine, is a herbaceous perennial plant belonging to the Orchidaceae family. It is native to Europe and Asia but has been introduced to North America, where it has become an invasive species.

Physical Description

The Broad-leaved Helleborine can grow up to 1.2 meters tall and has a characteristic thick stem that can vary from green to purple. Its leaves are dark green and glossy, oval-shaped, and up to 15 centimeters long. The plant produces a spike-like inflorescence with 10-30 flowers that bloom from June to September. The flowers are small, about 1 cm in diameter, and vary in color from green to yellowish-green.

Habitat and Distribution

Broad-leaved Helleborine can be found in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, grasslands, and disturbed areas such as roadsides and abandoned fields. It prefers moist, well-drained soil and partial shade. The plant is native to Europe and Asia but has been introduced to North America, where it has become an invasive species, particularly in the northeastern United States and eastern Canada.

Ecological and Economic Importance

As an invasive species, Broad-leaved Helleborine can outcompete and displace native plants, reducing biodiversity and altering ecosystem function. It is also known to hybridize with native orchid species, leading to the loss of genetic diversity. Additionally, the plant contains alkaloids that are toxic to humans and animals, making it potentially harmful if ingested.

However, Broad-leaved Helleborine does have some economic importance. In traditional Chinese medicine, the plant is used to treat a variety of ailments, including headaches and rheumatism. The plant is also used in the production of perfumes and soaps due to its fragrant flowers.

Conservation and Management

Broad-leaved Helleborine is considered an invasive species in many areas and efforts are being made to control its spread. In natural areas, manual removal and herbicide treatments have been used to manage populations. Prevention measures, such as the prohibition of the sale and transport of the plant, are also important to prevent its spread. It is essential to continue monitoring the spread of this plant and developing effective management strategies to prevent further harm to native ecosystems.

More Information about Broad-leaved Helleborine

Broad-leaved Helleborine has been shown to have significant negative impacts on native plant communities, particularly in forest ecosystems. The plant is known to form dense stands that can shade out and outcompete native understory vegetation, reducing biodiversity and altering ecosystem function. It also has the potential to hybridize with native orchid species, which can lead to genetic contamination and the loss of genetic diversity.

Additionally, Broad-leaved Helleborine can impact native pollinator populations. While the plant is known to attract a variety of pollinators, including bees and flies, it is not clear if it provides the same level of resources as native plants. In some cases, the plant may serve as a dead-end host for pollinators, reducing their overall fitness and contributing to declines in their populations.

Efforts to control the spread of Broad-leaved Helleborine are critical to protecting native ecosystems and the wildlife that depend on them. Management strategies, such as manual removal and herbicide treatments, should be implemented as soon as possible to prevent the establishment of large, dense populations of the plant. Prevention measures, such as the prohibition of the sale and transport of the plant, are also important to prevent its spread.

It is also important to note that while Broad-leaved Helleborine is an invasive species, it is not the only threat to native ecosystems. Other invasive plants, as well as habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change, and pollution, all contribute to the decline of native plant and animal populations. Conservation efforts must address these broader issues to ensure the long-term health and resilience of ecosystems.

In addition to its ecological and economic importance, Broad-leaved Helleborine has a long history of use in traditional medicine and folklore. In European folk medicine, the plant was used to treat a variety of ailments, including headaches, rheumatism, and digestive disorders. It was also believed to have magical properties and was used to protect against evil spirits and ward off witches.

In traditional Chinese medicine, Broad-leaved Helleborine is used to treat a range of conditions, including fever, inflammation, and pain. The plant is believed to have cooling and detoxifying properties and is used to promote blood circulation and relieve pain.

While some of these traditional uses may have some scientific basis, it is important to note that Broad-leaved Helleborine can be toxic if ingested. The plant contains a variety of alkaloids that can cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and convulsions. Ingestion of large amounts of the plant can be fatal, particularly in young children and pets.

In modern times, Broad-leaved Helleborine is mainly used for its ornamental value. Its attractive foliage and fragrant flowers make it a popular plant for gardens and landscaping. However, it is important to be aware of the potential for the plant to become invasive and to take steps to prevent its spread.

Broad-leaved Helleborine belongs to the Orchidaceae family, which is one of the largest families of flowering plants. The family includes over 25,000 species and is found in every continent except Antarctica. Orchids are known for their complex and diverse floral structures, which have evolved to attract specific pollinators.

Within the Orchidaceae family, Broad-leaved Helleborine belongs to the genus Epipactis, which includes around 60 species found throughout Europe and Asia. The genus is characterized by its terrestrial habit, with most species growing in woodlands and other shaded habitats. Epipactis species are known to hybridize with each other and with other orchid genera, leading to a complex and diverse range of hybrid taxa.

Phylogenetic studies have shown that Epipactis is a relatively recent genus, with the origin of the group estimated to be around 10 million years ago. The genus is thought to have originated in the Mediterranean region and subsequently spread to other parts of Europe and Asia.

Broad-leaved Helleborine is closely related to other European species within the Epipactis genus, including the Fly Orchid (Epipactis insectifera) and the Green-flowered Helleborine (Epipactis phyllanthes). These species share similar habitat preferences and reproductive strategies, including mycorrhizal associations with fungi and insect pollination. Studies of the genetic relationships between these species have shed light on the evolutionary history of the Epipactis genus and the factors that have contributed to its diversification.

Some Facts about Broad-leaved Helleborine

Facts about Broad-leaved Helleborine:

  • Broad-leaved Helleborine (Epipactis helleborine) is a perennial herbaceous plant in the Orchidaceae family.
  • The plant is native to Europe and Asia but has been introduced to other parts of the world, including North America and Australia, where it is considered an invasive species.
  • Broad-leaved Helleborine grows in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, meadows, and disturbed areas.
  • The plant can form dense stands and outcompete native vegetation, leading to negative impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem function.
  • Broad-leaved Helleborine has a long history of use in traditional medicine and folklore, but can be toxic if ingested.
  • The plant is also popular for its ornamental value, but steps should be taken to prevent its spread and potential invasiveness.

Broad-leaved Helleborine is a plant with a complex ecological and cultural history. As an invasive species, it can have negative impacts on native plant communities and pollinator populations, but it also has a long history of use in traditional medicine and folklore. Understanding the plant's taxonomy and phylogeny can shed light on its evolutionary history and help inform management strategies to protect native ecosystems. As with any plant species, it is important to balance the potential benefits and risks associated with its use and spread.


Broad-leaved Helleborine filmed in Capernwray, Lancashire and Chorley, Lancashire in July 2022.


Music credits
Firmament by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.

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Distribution Map

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